The military ban is just the latest assault in the US president’s all-out war on the already-marginalised, but we must articulate our resistance right
Yesterday President Trump tweeted that trans people will no longer be allowed to join the US military in any capacity, citing the “burden” of “tremendous medical costs and disruption”.
Immediately, the pro-military takes came rolling out. GLAAD wrote: “This puts the careers of patriotic transgender Americans on the line who want nothing more than to serve their country.” In a similar, fervent tone, the ACLU described “the thousands of transgender service members serving on the front lines for this country”. Even trans author Janet Mock said she “salute(s) trans folk...who've fought for a country whose president won't fight for them.” Others posted, tearjerkingly, about the fights trans soldiers have had to be able to serve openly.
This ban is disgusting, but knowing how best to oppose it is complicated. How do we speak out against a policy that spuriously and calculatedly targets trans people, chipping away at our capacity to engage in the public sphere, without buying into US imperialism? Policies like these aren't just a one-off appeal to Trump voters, they are part of a broader plan to redirect anger at political disenfranchisement away from government and toward those marked out as scapegoats. This is one step in a process of taking those already seen as freaks, and reconstituting them as threats. Who can we blame for the fact that without health coverage people will bankrupt themselves trying to pay for care when they get ill? Oh, it's those disruptive burdens on the state – trans people.
This said, you can do two things at once. It's possible to oppose the anti-transness of the ban while also standing for the abolition of the military. To say, as some have, that the key thing here is legal equality and that anything else is radicaler-than-thou window dressing is to miss a key point about how transphobia, nationalism and violent imperialism co-constitute each other.
The news later emerged that Trump made the ban on trans military as a concession to GOP members threatening to block his spending bill which, among other things, promises funding to build the Mexico border wall. Patriotic fervour and hatred of people marked out as different go hand in hand. Trump's administration deliberately plays on the fears of the US population, around genders just as around national borders, capitalising on anxieties that 'progress' will leave the more traditional behind. In this way trans bodies, migrant bodies, are lashed out against, used as political bargaining chips to reinstate understandable categories – like those of normative gender – when it becomes expedient. Migrants and trans people (and importantly, those who are both) become targets upon whom security discourses are enacted.
“It will not end here, but if the push back against transphobia is to be meaningful it needs to stretch beyond shoring up nationalist sentiment”
Even if well intentioned, support for trans soldiers leads down a worrying path to homonationalism. This is an academic term, but it's one that partially describes the mainstream gay and trans politics of the past three decades. Homonationalism is when queer liberation is understood as inclusion in colonial normality, including where normality means banging a drum for the good old USA's right to drone-strike in other countries. But rights-oriented activism, where the trans cause becomes something like 'the right to be included in conservative institutions like marriage, or the military', doesn't work. Under a hostile government, as we're now seeing, it can take no more than a series of tweets for hard-fought rights to be taken away again.
The publishing collective Against Equality have been criticising, “militarism as a mechanism for national belonging” since 2009. They state: “Not only does this then put gay and lesbian (and/or trans) people in the position of accepting state violence as the conduit for their belonging, but it also reinforces the way in which...countries like the US now apply foreign policy pressure in the name of 'gay rights'.”
Thank you to the LGBT community! I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 14, 2016
I don't want trans people to be excluded from the military, I want there to be no military at all. The advocacy group Trans Equality estimate that there are 15k trans service members: like other groups who face discrimination leading to poverty, trans people are overrepresented within the US army. For many, the army is one of very few to no options for employment and trans-related medical coverage. It's possible to care for trans members of the military who may now find themselves out of a job, in a society without a social security net, where veterans often end up homeless and sick, and crucially, without healthcare, without expressing support for the imperialist institutions that perpetrate mass murder across the globe.
And let's be consistent. I hope that the people furious about this ban are just as angry, and just as likely to act, about the murders of Black and Latina trans women sex workers, trans homelessness, trans unemployment across the board, trans youth suicides, the murders and attacks of gender non-conforming people globally by imperialist armies, and topically, the repeal of Obamacare, which will strip healthcare from millions of people including impoverished trans people. Trans Americans have every right to be scared. It will not end here, but if the push back against transphobia is to be meaningful it needs to stretch beyond shoring up nationalist sentiment.
The ban is just the latest assault in Trump's all-out war on the already-marginalised. Trump's brief, campaign-trail lip service to LGBT welfare was always a farce, and nobody other than a few deeply worrying 'twinks for Trump' were convinced by it. Now, when the attack amps up, is the time to be complex about how our resistance is articulated. It is the time to counter with a queer politics, not a politics of assimilation. Let's ban everyone from serving in the military, then dismantle it altogether.